Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Comprehensive School Security Systems

As school administrators and school security professionals begin to consider security upgrades, budgeting and planning tend to be front of mind.  “But there are some pitfalls to keep in mind,” Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards notes, “background assumptions or biases that sometimes get administrators off course, and lead to some bad decisions.”

Too Much of a Barrier

First and foremost, administrators start the conversation with major fortifications in mind.  Jim Richards notes, “Because of how we debate things in this country, people end up with this impression that every crime is committed with an assault rifle, and the whole exterior of each building needs high-level ballistic reinforcement.  That’s just note the case.  You can’t secure every door and window—it’s beyond cost-prohibitive—and you don’t need to, if you channel visitors properly. The ballistic security barrier is just one part of a comprehensive, integrated security solution.  Most schools have excellent emergency procedures and staff in place.  All they really need is a way to make sure that all visitors are channeled through a secured single point of entry.”

Most schools already check credentials of visitors before giving them access to the building.  By transforming a primary entrance into a secured vestibule, schools see a major increase in security without straining their budget or disrupting the safety protocols they have in place.  In most areas, if an active shooter can be slowed by just 20 seconds, law enforcement will have the time they need to lock down the scene and neutralize the threat.

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Avoiding “Quick Fix” School Security Upgrades

Because schools are so squeezed by budget cuts and economic woes, there’s a tendency to embrace “quick fixes” and minimum viable solutions.  But once you look at the full cost of implementation and maintenance, a “cheap” solution often costs just as much as a true custom ballistic barrier and access control system—and generally offers far less security.

“Let’s face it: There are just a lot of crazy products out there,” from “bullet proof” whiteboards and backpacks to “Ballistic Furniture Systems” and bulletproof wall plaster.  Even products that have their place—like after-market end-user installed security films that help minimize storm-damage and vandalism—can’t be used to cobble together a reliable ballistic barrier system.

“I think, in part, this is driven by cost, but also there’s this perceived permanence of a bullet resistant barrier, which can be intimidating.  But the truth is, nothing is ‘permanent.’  We’ve moved bullet proof systems between buildings in the past, and modified them after the fact as a facility’s use patterns have changed.  A good design with good fabrication and installation, it will put up with that.  When you go with the ‘quick fix,’ it’s like that bookshelf from Ikea: It maybe works fine, and you can get it together yourself in relatively short order, but God forbid you ever have to modify that thing, repair it, or try to take it apart and then put it back together somewhere else.”

ADA, NFPA, and other Ballistic Barrier Design Pitfalls

Many bullet proofing companies work primarily with banks, convenience stores, or other retail operations.  They aren’t necessarily aware of the many building codes, accessibility standards, and access expectations that schools must keep in mind.  An experienced bullet proofing company can prevent a school from inadvertently running afoul of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) egress codes, International Fire Code (703.2), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), etc.—concerns that are all the more vital when a barrier system needs to control building access without limiting building access.

TSS’s free school security checklist is an excellent place to begin assessing your comprehensive school security solution: 5 Steps for Securing School Doors & Entryways

Next Steps:

Begin reading the Ultimate Guide to Non-Profit Security Grants

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